France is not making the most of its research findings, according to statistics released by the Observatory of Science and Technology.
In its biennial report the OST claims that France's share of patents registered in Europe has slipped from 8.5 per cent in 1987 to 7 per cent in 1996. The decline since 1990 alone was 18 per cent.
Over the same period, the percentage of French patents registered in the United States fell from 3.8 to 3.1 per cent.
French electronics lost 20 per cent of world market share between 1987 and 1996, but the statistics reflect a strength in the aerospace and land transport sectors.
Observatory director Remi Barre said: "We could have some methodological problems with the interpretation of these statistics, but, even taking that into account, the results are worrying.
"The figures show there is a difference between scientific research and innovation that leads to economic activity. The contradiction between the two strands highlights a problematic relationship."
Other areas of concern include a decline in the comparative weight of France in key technologies on a global scale and an overall decline in the number of times French scientific papers are referred to over two years in international publications.
The citation index averaged out over 12 years from 1983 has declined from 1 to 0.95, placing it below the world average.
Germany and Britain are ahead of France, but of the European Union's 15 member states, it is the Netherlands that tops the list with an "impact" of 11.
Outside the EU, Switzerland and Norway show a level "impact" of 1.5 each.
The OST notes that the French position must be set against the overall growth in both French and international publications and that the "impact" measurement is conditioned by language to the benefit of English.
For the first time, the report publishes figures for the 20 leading regions in Europe - and only two are French. While France can muster only Paris and Essone, Britain and Germany have five regions each in the list.
"I conducted further analysis on the question of regions after publication of the report," Mr Barre said.
"The picture emerges that greater London and greater Paris are Europe's two centres of scientific and technological activity, sources of patents and publications.
"They are closely followed by Germany's industrial cities, then other European capitals such as Milan, Madrid and Stockholm."